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History

From THE FIGHTING MACHINISTS, A CENTURY OF STRUGGLE
by Robert G. Rodden

Jettisoning the Journal

When Fred Hewitt retired, at age seventy in 1945, after more than three decades as editor of The Machinists Monthly Journal, his successor, Lee Thomas, made the mistake of challenging Harvey Brown over a relatively minor matter involving editorial policy. As an elected officer, Thomas assumed he would be able to exercise as much independence as Hewitt had enjoyed. But time had changed and Thomas' challenge gave Harvey Brown one more reason to favor a weekly newspaper more in tune with the times and an editor who could be kept on a tighter leash. Once the Machinist began publishing, Thomas must have realized that sooner or later the leadership would choose between it and the Journal since even an organization as thriving as the IAM could not afford both weekly and monthly publications. Thomas was at a disadvantage in the fight for survival. As a former business representative from Grand Rapids he was bright enough. However, he had no particular qualifications for editing a major union magazine. Long before he came to Grand Lodge he showered Hewitt with folksy articles expounding his philosophy on life, trade unionism and other weighty subjects. But Thomas was more prolific than talented and when it came to putting out a publication for a modern day readership he was little more than an earnest amateur. This became apparent when Gordon Cole, and experienced and talented professional, became editor of The Machinist. Cole soon created one of the best written, best-laid-out labor papers in America.

Thomas did his best to keep the Journal in the running by modernizing the layout, expanding the page size, adding color and generally trying to put more zip into the sober old Journal. But he never quite made it. Possibly no one could in the face of radio, television, movies and other diversions that decreased the reading time of most Americans, including most union members. The old-time craftsman  may have had the patience to study pages of closely set type and time to digest a Journal that mixed economics and philosophy with shop notes and technical information. By the mid '50's, however, the IAM had many more specialists than journeymen. The proud railroad machinists, once the backbone of the union, were disappearing as rapidly as the industry they served. The younger and more transient aircraft mechanics, auto mechanics and airframe workers who replaced them in the ranks were more likely to glance quickly through the Machinist than sit down for hours with the Journal.

When Thomas died, after a long bout with cancer, in November 1954, Hayes tapped GLR William Dameron to take his place. Dameron was soft-spoken former business representative from Philadelphia who was warned at the start that the was merely a temporary stand-in, that the Executive Council intended to recommend the Journal be abolished at the '56 Grand Lodge Convention.

By the time the delegates got to San Francisco the Journal had been cut back to six issues a year. When word got out that the Publication Committee was planning to recommend that it be discontinued many delegates were dismayed. Some went to Dameron  and begged him to lead a fight to save the Journal. Since he had known the Journal's days were numbered even before he took over as editor he refused to join the challenge that was being planned.

In its report the Publications Committee noted, "Changing times requires different tools and . . . we are convinced that more of our members and more of the wives and husbands of members read our newspaper than read the Journal." In the debate that followed the hall was drenched with nostalgia. Delegates wistfully remembered how the Journal had laid "in a place of honor" in machinists' homes, how members had kept it "in the libraries of their homes for their children" and how it had been passed on to friends and relations. Finally Hayes asked the convention's consent to make a statement. Indulging in a little nostalgia of his own, Hayes pointed out that he had been a member for almost 40 years and fully understood that the Journal "was one of the sentimental sign posts in this organization." But he went on to explain matter-of-factly, that while the Journal "served a good purpose during its lifetime, in today's United Sates and Canada the media . . . have changed." He explained that even as a bi-monthly the Journal was costing the IAM $500,000 a year. He concluded that despite emotional and sentimental attachments such an expense was difficult to justify from a practical standpoint. In the voice vote that followed the delegates permitted the Journal to die.

For many years it had served the union well. Under Hewitt the Journal had substance, a tough, gritty, honest, dirt-under-the-fingernails quality that validated it as a publication by machinists, of machinists and for machinists. But in its last decade and a half, beginning with the wartime rationing of newsprint, the Journal slowly declined both in quality and influence.

Members were assured The Machinist would fill the void left after the Journal was killed off. And though a weekly newspaper could not achieve the depth the Journal once achieved under Hewitt, The Machinist continues to be one of the most respected and widely honored union publications. Unfortunately it, too, eventually fell victim to changing times. Due to skyrocketing postage and publishing costs it had to be converted to a monthly tabloid in the early 1970's.

Checking the Right-to-Work Plague

In 1944 Florida was the first state to legislate the compulsory open shop. Since the NLRA authorized union security clauses in collectively bargained contracts there was initially some doubt as to the validity of the Florida statute. But the Taft-Hartley Act included a section--14(b)--that settled the doubt by giving states the right to outlaw the union shop. By hamstringing unions in states where they were weakest and most needed Section 14(b) proved to be the part of Taft-Hartley most damaging to the labor movement.

When the validity of state bans on union security was certified by Taft-Hartley, a fever of anti-unionism swept the South and spread to a number of farming states in the Midwest. Although the purpose of right-to-work laws was to cripple unions by requiring every shop to be an open shop this motive was concealed by fraudulent mislabeling. Someone with a flair for false advertising termed the compulsory open shop a "right-to-work." While union representatives tried to explain the phoniness of the label industry flacks equated right-to-work laws with motherhood and apple pie.

By 1955 seventeen states had compulsory open shop laws though none were in the industrial states where union members could vote in sizable numbers. Despite the best efforts of big business lobbyists, these laws were limited to rural and southern states.

In February 1955 The Machinist reported that a group of corporate executives had established a Nation Right-to-Work Committee (NRTW). Former Congressman Fred Hartley, of Taft-Hartley notoriety, was named president. In the following months The Machinist kept a watchful eye on right-to-work developments in sixteen states--California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Business and industry lobbyists put pressure on legislators in all these states but the labor movement was better prepared than in the first right-to-work blitz in 1947. Along with the rest of the labor press The Machinist made sure IAM members fully understood the magnitude of the threat to their wages and working conditions. Editor Gordon Cole asked a priest, minister and rabbi to measure so-called right-to-work laws against the moral standards set by the nation's three major theologies. The result was a series of memorable studies exposing the fundamental immorality of compulsory open shop legislation. The IAM distributed thousands of reprints, in the form of a fifty-five page booklet called Right-to-Work: Three Moral Studies, the state legislators, clergymen, newspapers and other opinion-makers. The Three Moral Studies also armed IAM GLR's and business representatives with arguments refuting open shop advocates in public debate or letters to the editor.

The American Civil Liberties Union warned "that 'right-to-work' laws may be interpreted as an invitation to continue the denial of free speech and assembly to labor unions." After starting out strong early in the year the National Right-to-Work Committee's campaign generally fizzled. Once the unions got their members aware and roused, Utah became the only state to enact a compulsory open shop law in 1955. The Kansas legislature, dominated by the Farm Bureau, passed such a law, but lacked the votes needed to override Governor Fred Hall's veto.

The National Right-to-Work Committee's failure in 1955 showed that where union members formed the nucleus for an aroused voting bloc, most state legislators were reluctant to stir them up with the right-to-work issue. Open shop advocates had to look for a different strategy. Since they couldn't get right-to-work laws through state legislatures, they decided to go directly to the voters by way of initiatives and referenda. They set out to test this strategy in Washington State early in 1956. In February The Machinist reported that the state's right-to-work committee had asked the Attorney General to approve the title "Protecting Freedom of Employment" for their proposed initiative. He dealt them an early setback by ruling such a title misleading. He re-titled it "Restricting Employer-Employee Agreements."

When the campaign opened the Right-to-Work Committee was confident of success. The labor movement was relatively strong in the state--the Machinists alone had some 20,000 members at Boeing--but in a referendum of all the voters union members would be a decided minority. The open shop advocates also expected Eisenhower to sweep the state and were sure most Eisenhower voters would be anti-union.

With the largest contingent of organized labor in the state, District 751 was crucial to the counter-attack. President and DBR Harold Gibson learned the Right-to-Work Committee planned to collect 50,000 signatures (needed to put the question on the ballot) by mailing out 800,000 petitions with postage-guaranteed return envelopes. When these petitions were in the mail the Washington State Machinists Council ran large newspaper ads headed "DANGER!" The ads explained that the underlying purpose of the Right-to-Work petition was to weaken unions and destroy union protections. This was followed by a second ad labeled "BEWARE THE ONSTER IN YOU MAIL BOX."

Though the AFL and CIO had recently merged at the national level, in many states, including Washington, AFL and CIO unions were still operating separately. The 1956 open shop referendum served as a catalyst for unity. The Machinists, Longshoremen, Carpenters, Railroad Brotherhoods, Woodworkers, and other AFL and CIO unions formed a United Labor Advisory Committee to plan and coordinate strategy statewide. The labor movement set out to show that the so-called right-to-work would hurt everyone, not just union members. Unions distributed more than 200,000 bumper stickers--"Don't Wreck Your State: Reject 198"--along with tens of thousands of lapel buttons. The slogan blossomed on billboards, posters and placards placed in the windows of homes and businesses. A group called The Committee for the Preservation of Payrolls prepared a speakers' manual titled "Brother It's Up To You," which addressed legal, moral, political, economic, social and historical issues in the right-to-work debate. Every union in the state directed educational programs to their own members. In this effort District 751 profited from lessons learned in repelling the Teamsters 1949 raid at Boeing. The district set up seminars for members, trained speakers and distributed thousands of pamphlets from door to door.

Shortly before election day the Right-to-Work Committee blanketed the state with an expensive, last-minute advertising blitz. Newspaper ads, telephone calls and radio spots were all part of a professionally orchestrated campaign to persuade Washington voters that the right-to-work initiative would help union members without hurting unions. District 751 countered with a huge, televised get-out-the-vote rally in Seattle.

Most of the state's political establishment, including Senator Henry Jackson and candidates for governor and Congress from both parties, paraded to the dais to denounce the right-to-work fraud. As one of the principal speakers, Al Hayes stressed that the initiative's sponsors were not concerned with anyone's right to work either decently or at all. He warned they were using a fine-sounding phrase to camouflage a proven method of union-busting. He assured listeners that the purpose of the right-to-work campaign was to limit the gains unions make for union and non-union workers alike.

During the balloting tens of thousands of union members stood or marched outside polling places bearing placards that repeated the slogan "Don't Wreck Your State, Vote Against 198." Washington's voters buried Initiative 198 by more than two to one--704,000 to 329,000. The right-to-workers failed to achieve their main goal but succeeded in deflecting union energies from collective bargaining to costly, time-consuming defensive action. Two years later they would be back for another try.


Women Must Weep
Anatomy Of A Lie
The McClellan Committee and Landrum-Griffin

 

History


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of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW
Greg Enright